Saturday, December 20, 2008

Library Kid Lit: 1 of 3

Though only a lowly aide, I really enjoy my new job at the public library. My only duty is to shelve books, which probably strikes most people as incredibly boring. But one of my few innate talents is being able to effortlessly put Dewey decimal numbers in order, so this is an easy, stress free job for me. And I stumble across so many interesting titles I might not otherwise discover.

This is particularly true when shelving children's picture books. Since I no longer have young children of my own, I haven't kept up with new titles. Now I'm discovering lots that I might like to buy for my grandchildren. (Naturally, I don't flip though enticing picture books while I'm on the job. I just set them on the bottom shelf of my book cart and check them out when I go off duty. Just so you know.)

Recently I came across three titles which caught my eye because they had to do with libraries. The first one was The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians by Carla Morris. Isn't that an evocative title? The opening words are, "Melvin lived in the Livingston Public Library. Well . . . he didn't really live there. He just spent lots and lots of time there."

The book follows Melvin's library adventures from the days when he was so small he was barely able to peep over the top of the check-out counter. Every day he stops on his way home from school to visit the library, and he always makes sure to visit the reference librarians whom he loves because, "Whatever he was interested in, they were interested in too." And honestly, they are the most wonderful librarians in the world.

Whether Melvin's interested in snakes, bugs, or baseball cards, his three librarian friends are ready and eager to help him track down and organize information because, "That's how librarians are. They just can't help it." (I particularly liked the segment in which the librarians help Melvin practice for his part in his second grade class play. He's been cast as the Enormous Eggplant. While two of the librarians teach Melvin to memorize his lines and project his voice, the third reads aloud to him from Organic Gardening magazine "to help him find his motivation.")

Through the years Melvin attends all of the library's special programs. When he's in high school he even gets a part time job there. All three librarians proudly attend his graduation and miss him when he goes away to college, though he keeps in touch with them by letter and email.

And then, many years later, a new little boy comes into the Livingston Public Library where he is greeted by the same three librarians -- plus Livingston's newest librarian: Melvin himself!

Although some of the Amazon reviewers criticized this book for being unrealistic (i.e. that you'd never find that level of staffing or service in the children's department of any public library), I liked the book and I thought that although the portrayal of the librarians may have been a bit idealized, it did in fact capture the spirit that animates good librarians -- not just an interest in books and reading, but in gathering, organizing, and using information. And in helping others to do so. As the three librarians explain, after helping Melvin retrieve, identify, classify and catalog the inhabitants of his bug collection which escaped while he was in the library:

"That's how we are," explained Leeola.
"When we see chaos...," began Betty.
"...we organize and catalog," finished Marge. "It's in our nature."
Agents in the fight against entropy and chaos -- what a noble calling! In a small way, I share in it as I put away books, read the shelves, and reshelve the many books which kids have helpfully shoved backwards into the wrong places.


TS said...

I like Lewis & Stone's "Bury Me in the Library". It's a children's book but I'm tempted to buy it for me!

Enbrethiliel said...


It sounds great, Bibliophagist! Thanks for reviewing it. =)

My own favourite portrayal of a librarian which has been criticised for being hyper-idealised is in Ray Bradbury's short story Exchange. The main character is a man who has returned to his hometown after an absence of many years. So much has changed since then that he is disorientated to the point of depression. Then he runs into the old librarian, who mysteriously hasn't changed a bit. Using familiar books--not just familiar titles, but the old books themselves--she shows him that though readers come and go, books are always there.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...


Thanks for the title. I'll have to check for it at our library.


I've never read that short story by Ray Bradbury. Do you recall what collection it's in?

Enbrethiliel said...


It's in Quicker Than the Eye, one of his later books. Most of the other stories don't have the magic of his earlier works--and that includes Exchange--but its power to haunt the reader is strong and true.

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